Friday, February 25, 2011

In Arlington, all quiet

Ok, nothing interesting is happening in our lives right now. I mean, NOTHING!
I am knees deep in Bangla study since my exams are approaching fast--I take my BEX on Thursday, and my final FSI test on March 11. Gulp...
We had our second round of shots for Dhaka on Thursday, which excited me to no end since ANYTHING out of the routine life excites me nowadays--I mean, how pathetic your life has to be for you to be excited on account of a rabbies shot? Son took it like a man, and all three of us walked out of the FSI clinic with lollipops sticking out of our mouths.
Another noteworthy event in my life was the realization that Son can draw an awesome circle. I am not saying that he is the next president of the United States, but I am putting it out there that he has some skills. According to the milestone charts for his age, that is pretty darn advanced. Apparently, so is balancing on one leg (see here , and so I have been making the poor child stand around the house on one leg just to see if he can. He could. I guess he IS presidential material after all...
Tonight, I sent the Diplomat to have beers with his FSO buddies. He was giddy with anticipation and warned me that he might come home pretty late. I rolled my eyes, put Son to bed, ordered Chinese, studied some Bangla until the food came, and then started two of my most favorite things--eating Singapore rice noodles and watching Grey's Anatomy. As I was just relaxing and getting into the show and the food, the Diplomat came home, grinning silly like a tipsy Cheshire Cat. It was only 10.30 pm. I guess one's standards for a "late night out" slowly deteriorate with age. Turns out he and two other devoted hubbies like him went to a neighboring bar and spent the majority of their time talking about babies (so I was told). Um, wha'?

Finally, tomorrow will be a pretty thrilling day--I will spend 8 hours at FSI taking the very useful class of U.S. Protocol and Representation Abroad, along with a bunch of my wife friends, and then will go to a potluck party with my fellow FSO bloggers! I cannot wait to learn how to address the Ambassador's wife or how to seat people around the table. THAT would have been rather useful to me last weekend when we hosted a dinner at home. It must have been a good dinner though regardless of my table seating arrangements since the guests came at 8.30 pm and after a pleasant Scotch nightcap and a cigar smoke left at 2 am. Which would have been OK if Son hadn't woken up at 6.30 am a mere 4 hours later. Cheers!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Vaccinations and Fly American!

This past week saw us take yet another step to bring us closer to Dhaka--we went for the first round of our required vaccinations. We got shots for rabbies, Japanese encephalitis and a bouquet of hepatitis. I was practically excited as the vaccination brought some much needed diversion in our Bangla obsessed lives. The problem with them is that your arms' muscles hurt like mad the following couple of days. Right next to the Health Clinic at FSI is also the travel center, so while wrapped in my excitement, I decided to pop in and inquire about possible routes to Dhaka.
Now, if you must know, governmental employees must "fly American" which means that we can fly only on a US carrier as long as the government is paying for the ticket. Clearly, plenty of exceptions exist since I am not entirely sure any American airline flies to Burundi or Gyuana. Or Bangladesh. It is just not THAT much of a popular route, you know. For that reason, our flying options are a tad restricted. We were told the exciting news that since our total flying time exceeds 14 hours (for a total of 18!), we are allowed a one-night stopover with a choice of London, Frankfurt or Abu Dhabi. For personal reasons, we chose London. And then we got the slightly underwhelming news that from London through Dubai and then through Sylhet (Bangladesh) we would fly Biman Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi airline. Our immersion then begins in London. I must admit, I was hoping for something like British Airways or Lufthansa or Swiss Air for a connection. My consolation is that first class is only $500 more expensive from coach and I think as a parting gift to myself, I might purchase us an upgrade as (oddly enough) none of our credit card miles work with Biman. All I could find on the Internet regarding Biman is that "at least the food good." So, at least the food is good!

This is a busy weekend, filled with entertaining at home and running in the park for both Son and the Diplomat. I am engulfed in Bangla as my exam is fast approaching. Ack!!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A night of Bengali

Where did this week go already??? I cannot believe that it is Wednesday already.
We had a pretty fun weekend here. On Saturday we took Son to the birthday party for the daughter of good friends of ours. After the initial shyness and trying to insert himself underneath my dress, Son joined the festivities once the kids started running around like mad thanks to the sugar high. He then went on to alternate between whining to have me make bubbles for him, to stuffing his face with more cupcake and broccoli (who am I to say no?). An hour later we left to go to the Bangladeshi Embassy, where we were invited for some undefined festivities that night. Turned out that the Embassy was celebrating the so-called "pitha" which is a sweet type of bread/cake typically eaten in Bangladesh in the winter. The Embassy was filled with men and women, all of which were particularly colorfully dressed, and a million frenetic children (most likely thanks to the pitha eating). 3 seconds after we entered the festively lit Embassy, a man met us, introduced himself as the DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission) and promptly whisked us away to meet the Ambassador. The Diplomat actually knew the Ambassador who had given a speech at the FSI few days before that, and the two struck a lively one-minute chat. The DCM seemed quite excited to see us both--he realized that the Diplomat was a US Foreign Service officer but when I started speaking to him in Bengali he was completely awed. We then explained to him that we were indeed spouses and we were BOTH in the Foreign Service, which confused him to no end. It turned out that the Bangladeshi foreign service does not allow tandem couples.
I proceeded to speak (possibly atrocious) Bengali left and right to the utter bewilderment of all. The final touch was when someone ushered me to write something "memorable" on a white board. The person before me was Chinese and he wrote something undoubtedly nice in Chinese to everyone's delight. I suppose I was expected to write something in English but I wrote Bangla instead--I am happy to say people were floored.

Monday's Valentine's Day was spent at home because the Diplomat decided to cook a special meal for me. We sent Son to bed, and sat down to a candle-lit dinner of mussels and a giant bottle of champagne. Half an hour and half a bottle of champagne later, while giggling and digging into the mussels, we felt a presence--turns out, Son had quietly opened the door of his room and was lying on the floor, staring at us. He did have a very diabolic look on his face. We rushed him back into bed and proceeded to finish the bottle. Which we later regretted because Son up at 5.30 am and categorically refused to go back to bed. Happy Valentine's to you too!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The power of No and strange occurences

Lately Son has developed the maddening and absurd habit to say alternatively "yes" and "no" to things. It drives both me and the Diplomat mad, while it does not seem to strike Son as odd. It goes something like this:
Son: I wanna mango juice!!!! (irritated look and whiny voice)
Me: Here it is! (pulls it out of the fridge with a wide smile, happy to oblige)
Son: Nooooooooo (rolls on the floor)
Me: Fine (puts juice back, trying to look calm and superior)
Son: Wanna juice!
Me: Here (takes juice out, tries not to strangle Son)
Son: NOOOOOOO (rolling and stomping)
Me: Fine, I don't care (puts juice away, walks away in a huff pretending to be composed)
Son: I wanna mango! I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango! (rolls around the ENTIRE apartment)
Me: Lalalalalala, what a nice day, lalalaaaaaaa.....(looks up towards the ceiling and tries to study Bangla nonchalantly)
Son: I wanna mango! I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!I wanna mango!

Me: (Wonders what life in a cave, alone, feels like...)

Son: I wanna mango, I wann.....(very quietly) mama, I peed myself.

Me: Of course you did, with all that screaming (gets up with a sigh and head full of cave dreams).

Son does this nowadays all the time, with everything. He does it mostly when he is mopey or in a bad mood, but sometimes for no reason at all. Please, tell me it is stage and it will pass away as of next week because it takes a whole lot of diplomatic resolve not to toss a mango juice bottle in his direction in moments like that.

Today has also been a day of some peculiar occurrences. For starters, the Diplomat cooked dinner. Well, to be correct, he took a pre-marinaded chicken from Trader Joes and fried it for at least 10 minutes, but at least it was him, not me! Then, after dinner, I took the happy, content, full child to run in the lobby of our building while I check the mail and chat with the doorman/woman. These little 10-min excursions are our little tradition, during which Son thinks that I generously invite him to assist me with the junk mail, which he laboriously and diligently throws in the recycling bin. The truth is that I take him out to help with dinner digestion and to expend any residual energy from the day since he proceeds to run like mad for 10 minutes in circles around the lobby. As he was running tonight, and I was conversing coherently with him in high literary Bulgarian, a man standing there turned to me, and asked me whether I was speaking Bulgarian. I was and I asked him whether he was from there as well. He told me that he had spent there a number of years as an economic consultant for the EU and in fact had a 3-year old daughter there, whom he visits 4-5 times a year. It all sounded so surreal.

I have now sighed up for the A-100 160th class gmail group, sponsored by the welcome committee from the 158th FSI class. The group serves to answer questions from and share the excitement of my eager and anxious future colleagues. Since I have been part of FSI since September as a spouse (or an EFM, an Eligible Family Member, as the DoS colorfully calls us), it has been somewhat odd to try to think of myself as part of a class of my own! To an extent, I feel a bit robbed of the experience--for example, I will not have the thrill of my own Flag Day. Then again, given some of the post choices, I will gladly give up that thrill...And so I have decided to make up for it all by attending every single happy hour out there! And there are A LOT!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to Become a Foreign Service Officer: Part III--the QEP personal narratives

You have now taken the FSOT, and then you have spent the next two or so weeks trying desperately to remember some of the questions that you think you did wrong and google them obsessively for answers. Then you spend a week checking messages on the FSOT yahoo boards where everyone speculates wildly when the results will come out. You begin fearing that they will come out at a point when you have absolutely no access to Internet--the State Department is so advanced nowadays that it has a website where you can log in to get your Congrats/Regrets letter. And so you find yourself sitting at Heathrow Airport, on your way back from a skiing trip, with a screaming Son who is running around the airport windows gesticulating at planes in utter delight while all you can think of is that most likely the results are out and you have no way of getting them. And then, in a stroke of genius, you pull out your cellphone and turn it on (thank God, you have a GSM) and yes, there it is--a message from a caring Diplomat who has nobly gotten into my email account in New York, seen my results and left me a voicemail in case I check it at my stop-over in London. Thank you! You proceed to scream, "YES, YES, YES, I DID IT, I AM SO F..ING AWESOME" while the elderly British couple next to you at the airport look at you disapprovingly in a VERY reserved manner.

The next step is the writing of several personal narratives for review by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP). You have about a month to submit your essays, which generally address you intellectual, interpersonal, communication, managerial and leadership skills. No, I cannot publish the questions, come on now! There is a character limit of 1300 characters per essay, which includes spaces. It is shockingly little, about 200 words or so. And it takes forever to polish and fit within the limit. My suggestion would be to start writing right away. The idea is to take examples from your life that demonstrate such skills. The examples do not have to be you leading the UN in spontaneous liberating action somewhere in Africa, or being Dalai Lama's right hand, or writing the next shocking physics theory or speaking 36 languages, including Martian and negotiating peace with the little people of the Moon. The idea of the essays is to show that you have enough common sense, stamina and emotional maturity to live abroad, communicate with people different from you, show some initiative and creativity when things go hairy (and I mean situations like when you have to deal with the notorious Washington bureaucracy, not like riots in Egypt, which I would gladly take over the bureaucratic process) and retain your sense of humor while doing all of that.

Be creative. Don't try to guess what the reader wants to hear. If the question explores your intellectual skills, do not necessarily dwell upon your heroic efforts to solve Fermat's Last Theorem before you were beaten to it by Andrew Wiles. Write instead about some problem you had and the awesome creative, last minute solution you found to it. Interpersonal skills will deal with your ability to communicate with people different from you. Again, don't rack your brain for examples from your ground-breaking water project in the villages of the Zanzibar, where you learned to speak Kiunguja in a matter of weeks and danced with colored sticks around the ceremonial fire every night (unless you actually have, in which case more power to you!). Talk about your crazy Argentinian roommate, who danced tango while sleepwalking and covered his walls with soccer posters, your Wisconsin colleague and his cheese-eating habits at work, or your prim British inlaws.
Whatever you choose to write about, keep it simple and VERY much to the point. You will have so little capacity to write that every unnecessary, albeit colorful detail, will have to go.

Do not underestimate the QEP essays--they are a very important part of your application. Start writing right away. Keep thinking of better and better examples. Ask you grandma. Ask your boyfriend/spouse/best friend for such examples. People sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. And then ask someone to read your creations. After you have read them over 345 times, your judgement about their literary and stylistic quality might have suffered just a bit. Take the criticism in stride. Re-write. You are awesome! Submit. Do not panic. Wait.

In other news, I have officially accepted my offer to join the March 28 A-100 class. I will be a proud part of Class 160!!! I also received my salary offer, which was surprisingly good and made me instantly go online and search for small but meaningful gifts to buy for myself. Finally, for those of you taking a BEX language test and finding yourself later on desiring to change the language to another one for whatever reason, I learned the following very important tidbit--you can swap languages for bonus points (if the languages carry the same or more points, obviously) until you actually join FSI. So now I am fervently studying Bangla and count on your joint well wishes and some mad luck to pass on March 3. In a demonstration how fervently I am studying, I am taking tomorrow as a mental day off. I promise to think to myself in Bangla all morning. Or not.